Two weeks’ worth of comics — which to read first?
25 years ago, The New Teen Titans #8 was lauded for featuring a “Day in the Life” and focusing on character moments to endear the cast to the readers. Some 10 years later, DC’s Annuals included 8-page “Private Lives” stories which sometimes filled gaps in continuity. In the late 1990s, DC began publishing thick, expensive “Secret Files” books whose gap-filling stories were separated by illustrated data sheets on the characters.
Countdown to Infinite Crisis is a high-profile gap-filler which does three things: sets up related miniseries through a survey of the DC Universe; introduces the coming epic’s mastermind; and shocks with the on-screen death of a superhero who (despite what the book has said about him) has been a consistently good member of DC’s community. The blogosphere spent the better part of the past several days ripping this book apart, and rightly so. Aside from questionable characterization (most obvious with the Martian Manhunter), CTIC also suffers from delayed lead-ins: Hal Jordan and Adam Strange appear despite their respective miniseries being an issue or two away from over. (Similarly, Wonder Woman’s eyes have apparently healed by this point.) I also suspect that much of the exposition supplied here will be regurgitated in the opening pages of the minis to follow. However, I did learn 1) the completely unnecessary explanation for why Blue Beetle wears goggles; and 2) Metropolis is in New York state, not Rhode Island (and somebody out there is mad at CTIC just for that!).
There’s no real good reason to read CTIC. Either you’re a longtime DC fan who doesn’t need the exposition; or you’re a newcomer and the shocking revelations won’t mean much. The ending leaves little doubt that the victim is dead, which is both distasteful and counterproductive — wouldn’t it be more suspenseful to leave some hope of rescue/recovery? I suppose the art, by Rags Morales, Ed Benes, Jesus Saiz, Ivan Reis, and Phil Jiminez, is decent, although Jiminez makes the villain beefier and the hero chunkier than the others do.
I hope that DC will use the 80 pages for $1.00 format for future “Secret Files,” though.
On to the regular series. Batman #638 (written by Judd Winick, with art by Doug Mahnke and Dustin Nguyen) reveals the Red Hood’s identity, but (disobeying the cover) not to Batman. Bats and Nightwing are busy dealing with the Red Hood, Black Mask, and Mr. Freeze trying to claim a significant amount of Kryptonite. Winick has given each of the villains a very loosey-goosey, self-aware speaking style which is entertaining in and of itself, but I’m not sure if it works for Mr. Freeze. Mahnke and Nguyen’s art is also a little looser this issue, with Batman especially looking more fluid and less blocky than they’ve drawn him to date. Again there’s a shocking revelation and a surprising death at the end, but I’m (like Steve) not sure why one would wear a mask under a mask. I’m also not convinced that the dead man is who he looks like. Regardless, this is still a better Bat-book than most others have been recently.
Of course, the Bat-book better than Batman is Detective Comics #805 (written by David Lapham, with art by Ramon Bachs and Nathan Massengill). It begins where the last issue ended, with Batman the happy warrior in the thick of a pack of goons. This issue sees “City of Crime” take a weirder turn, with the revelation that people in Gotham are being replaced with sinister duplicates. I’m not sure that the story really needed such an element, since Lapham was doing so well with the straight-up crime, but he makes it suitably creepy. There is also a backup story involving a baby Clayface and some manure that is either fun or juvenile, probably depending on your mood.
Flash #220 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Howard Porter and Livesay) highlights the two groups of Rogues and pretty much confirms for me that previous periodic interruptions (for example, to tell the sordid story of the Mirror Master) were unnecessary. Conventional wisdom held that the previous Flash’s Rogues’ Gallery never succeeded because they never quite had the killer instinct one needs for optimum villainy. Now, as Geoff Johns has taught us over what seems like the last 200 years, the Rogues mean business. However, this issue puts them in direct conflict with a group of reformed Rogues working for the FBI. That’s about it for the plot, really. (But why does Trickster I have his foot on the Stanley Cup on the last page?) I wonder what Johns will do once “Rogue War” is over, because it seems like the past couple of years have been building to this storyline. For that reason I have mixed feelings about this issue — on one hand, it packs all those other expository installments into 22 pages; but on the other at least he’s picking up the pace.
Legion of Super-Heroes #4 (written by Mark Waid, breakdowns by Barry Kitson, pencils by Leonard Kirk, inks by Mick Gray, second story art by Dave Gibbons) establishes a little more concretely the schism between the 31st Century’s teenagers and adults. We get to see some repression and, of course, the violence inherent in the system. The spine of the story is the origin of Invisible Kid, but this issue feels more like a regular story than an origin tale. The backup is a day in the life of Phantom Girl as told by Karate Kid, and although it aspires to be a tender account of how P.G. spends her life perpetually between dimensions, it comes off as extremely strange. It’s the kind of thing Waid could work into stories as a running gag, so even an 8-page backup may be giving it too much attention. Anyway, overall another solid issue from Waid & Kitson, with Leonard Kirk either blending seamlessly with Kitson’s style, aping it effectively, or both.
While Waid’s final issue of Fantastic Four (#524) (art by Mike Wieringo and Karl Kesel) didn’t really conclude his Galactus arc, it did give him an opportunity to bookend his run on the series with a heartfelt exploration of how the FF feel about their powers. I say “bookend” because the emotional issues surrounding their powers were explored by Waid in his first issue on the title. He and Ringo are a hard act to follow.
That brings me to Peter David’s second run on Incredible Hulk (#80) (art by Lee Weeks and Tom Palmer). The current “Tempest Fugit” arc is either a clever simulation run by a still-mysterious mastermind, or a backdoor rewind of the continuity clock to just before David left the title. I doubt seriously it’s the latter, and so does Bruce Banner, who thinks he’s gotten the hang of the clever simulations. His rebellion against them is the book’s high point, and their reaction is just as good. All in all, it’s still confusing, but in an entertaining way.
Superman/Batman #18 (written by Jeph Loeb, with art by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Marino) finally concludes the “Absolute Power” storyline. Remember, 5 months ago, how I praised Loeb for curtailing the dueling narration? It’s back now; and if that’s supposed to mean everything is going to be OK, then quite frankly I don’t want to be right. Reset buttons are pushed, and there are more invocations of alternate DC futures, before our heroes get back to normal and try to reconcile their horrible alternate deeds with their former victims. This title is on my list of “maybe it reads better in one sitting,” but while I think DC needs a successor to World’s Finest Comics, Jeph Loeb probably shouldn’t write it.
Speaking of oft-delayed books, Green Lantern Rebirth #5 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Ethan van Sciver and Prentis Rollins) finally came out this week. This penultimate issue finds Hal back in ring-slinging action and taking on the revived Sinestro. Two things bothered me about this issue.
First, once again Hal is exulting in the fact that he doesn’t face any more soul-searching or have any doubts about his ability. Obviously Johns means this as an empowering, not-gonna-take-it-anymore statement of purpose, but does this mean Hal’s emotional development has been rolled back over 30 years, to the beginning of the Denny O’Neil era? If memory serves, Kevin Smith revived Ollie Queen at a point around that same time — so you have to wonder if DC sees that period as some kind of decline. Anyway, to me that can’t be good, because it means that at some point in the future, somebody’s going to decide Hal needs yet another crisis of conscience. (When that turns out to be the name of DC’s big 2011 crossover, you heard it here first.) Now he’s happily whipping up on Sinestro, but wait a few years and he’ll be as conflicted as ever. Otherwise, he’ll be insufferable.
Second, while the art was fine mostly, a few details bothered me. Hal’s redesigned costume still throws off his proportions; Parallax’s first appearance this issue reminded me of Ozzy Osbourne; and the big Hal-Kyle handshake on page (numbers would be nice, DC!) 17 seems to have been taken straight from the Kentucky flag. (“United We Stand, Divided We Fall,” indeed.)
We’ll see how this all shakes out next issue, whenever it decides to appear.
Somewhat like Phantom Girl, Zatanna has been a character either trapped between, or coexisting in both, DC’s Vertigo books and its mainstream superhero titles. She started in the latter and eventually joined the Justice League, but for a while she was entrenched in Vertigo’s stable of mystical heroes. Thus, it’s no surprise that Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #1 (written by Grant Morrison, with art by Ryan Sook and Mick Gray) straddled that line between straightforward superheroics and knowing, ironic commentary on same. It covers some of the same territory as the original Seven Soldiers #0, including a dimension-hopping journey gone horribly awry. However, its tone is very matter-of-fact, with Zatanna at the end saying she’ll call the JLA if she really thinks things are too serious. The juxtaposition is entertaining, even if all the different dimensional dangers get confusing. Sook and Gray do a great job with the art, which is at times both droll and scary. This could be my favorite 7S miniseries, and not just because it features the most recognizable character or the one with the most cleavage.
Firestorm #12 (written by Dan Jolley, with art by Jamal Igle and Rob Stull) continues the assault on the new Firestorm by the old one’s greatest enemies. The dramatic tension comes from the literal struggle for control of Firestorm, with Jason having the power but Ronnie the strategic knowledge. While Ronnie’s tactics save the day, they also play into the hands of the villain pulling the strings, so “to be continued.” This arc has spotlighted both Jason’s power and inexperience, and while I’m not going to suggest “this is what a teenager fighting supervillains would look like,” Jolley has made it ring true. The art and color is as good as ever, so I’m glad I keep getting this book.
Based on my good experiences with Dan Slott’s She-Hulk and Spider-Man/Human Torch, I picked up G.L.A. #1 (art by Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar) expecting more fun in that vein. Well, it was funny, especially the Monkey Joe inserts, but in a very dark way. When your hero is Mr. Immortal, whose superpower is that he can’t be killed, that’s probably to be expected. Still, I only knew these characters from their picosecond cameos in JLA/Avengers, and this issue did a good job of introducing them and making them sympathetic.
Thanks to cable I had just seen the “Buffy” episode where she and Riley are trapped in the fraternity house, with their sexual energy powering these vines that trap others, so I wanted to compare that to the plot of Astonishing X-Men #8 (written by Joss Whedon, with art by John Cassaday), with the runaway Danger Room, but in the end that wasn’t happening. For one thing, Wolverine didn’t sing “Behind Blue Eyes.” I still get a very Willow Rosenberg vibe off Kitty Pryde, though. Having a rogue Danger Room (as opposed to Rogue’s Danger Room, I guess) was explained adequately enough, and the art was good as always, but these are the kinds of groundbreaking plots fans anticipated when Whedon was announced? This is the sort of thing folks can expect over at least the next 16 issues? If this were “Buffy,” it would be the season-ending show after the big finale to the season-long story arc, which cleanses the palate and gets everybody ready for the next big arc. So far I’m not seeing much innovation out of Whedon, and I’ve seen “Firefly,” so I know he can do better.
I also got Shanna The She-Devil #3 (written and drawn by Frank Cho) this week. Yeah, I know.
Finally I want to plug Batman Chronicles #1, reprinting in order every Batman story ever published. This volume covers the first year (Detective Comics #s 27-38 and Batman #1), and introduces Batman, Robin, the Joker, the Catwoman, Prof. Hugo Strange, the Monk, and Dr. Death. At $14.99, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than the Archive books, plus you don’t have to go back and forth between books to read the Batman and Detective stories. I do hope DC is committed to this project, because it will provide a good look both at Batman’s early “gothic” period and how quickly that evolved into the happier adventurer who became Adam West.